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Food System Fail: Up to Half of World's Food Wasted

'Staggering' amount of food waste squanders 'precious resources, including land, water and energy'

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Up to half of all food produced in the world is wasted, according to a new report, which also implicates wasteful practices in the global food system that squander the planet's water.

The report released Thursday, Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not (.pdf), from the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers notes that the "staggering" amount of food waste also means waste of "precious resources, including land, water and energy."

Dr. Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers stated:

The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today. It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.

The Guardian's Michael White writes Thursday:

The wider implications are scary. The planet faces the prospect of having to feed 9 to 10 billion people by 2050 – it's currently supporting 7 billion – and as agricultural experts have been reporting quite separately this week, the rise in extreme weather has damaged both the quantity of food harvested last year and (through lack of sunlight) its quality in some places, including Britain.

Yet, rich and poor alike, we are quite careless about looking after what we have. In developing countries with poor transport infrastructure and packaging (that wicked plastic packaging stuff does prevent waste) up to one third of food rots before it gets to market by some estimates. In the developed world, so today's report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers confirms, up to one-third of vegetables are rejected as ugly or ploughed back in consequence of over-production.

In addition to the factors White mentions, the supersize-me culture in developed countries contributes to food waste by "encourag[ing] shoppers to buy large quantities in excess of their actual needs," the report states.

In an August 2012 issue paper (.pdf) from the NRDC on food waste within the U.S., author Dana Gunders wrote:

Increasing the efficiency of the U.S. food system is a triple bottom-line solution that requires a collective approach by decision-makers at every level in the supply chain. Investing in these food waste reduction strategies, together we can reap the tremendous social benefits of alleviating hunger, the environmental benefits of efficient resource use, and the financial benefits of significant cost savings.

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